Indigenous

Vatican Considers Rescinding ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ in Response to Request From Indigenous Leaders

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

After Native American delegates met with Pope Francis and other Vatican representatives requesting an end to the Doctrine of Discovery, the Vatican said that it would consider rescinding the 500-year-old Catholic policy, reports APTN.

The Doctrine of Discovery is the name for a body of Catholic law that granted land rights to whichever European Christian nation settled territory in the New World. It considered as terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) any territory occupied by “heathens, pagans, and infidels” — in other words, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

Obama Restores Mount McKinley to Its Original Alaskan Native Name, ‘Denali’

FloridaStock / Shutterstock.com
Photo via FloridaStock / Shutterstock.com

After over one hundred years of being known as “Mount McKinley,” North America’s tallest mountain will henceforth be officially recognized as “Denali.” President Obama announced the change on Aug. 30 in anticipation of his trip to Alaska, on which he will call for aggressive action against climate change.

Alaskan Native tribes have long objected to the cultural imperialism embedded in the name “Mount McKinley,” which commemorates a man who never even stepped foot in Alaska.

Time to End the Papal Bull

Image: Landing of Columbus on the Islands of Guanahani, West Indies, 1847. John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)
Image: Landing of Columbus on the Islands of Guanahani, West Indies, 1847. John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)

POPE FRANCIS arrives in the U.S. this September to great acclaim. The popular pontiff will speak truth to power in Congress and at the United Nations and preach the necessity of stewarding creation, promoting an economy for life, and defending human dignity.

He also will canonize Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan missionary who founded the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California in the 18th century—many say on the backs of Indigenous people. While some call Serra a “shepherd and protector,” others argue he symbolizes the colonial conquest of North America through genocide.

Serra was a human being—sometimes noble, sometimes not. However, his conquest operated under a body of Christian law and policy called the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of papal documents (“bulls”) that granted legal right of ownership to whichever European Christian nation arrived first in the new territory. Since 1823 it has also been enshrined in U.S. law. As recently as 2005, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited it as the basis for denying a land claim by the Oneida people, one of the five founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Doctrine of Discovery is based on a principle of Roman law called terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) and grew out of the church’s conviction that “discovered” lands were devoid of human beings if the original people who lived there (defined as “heathens, pagans, and infidels”) were not ruled by a Christian ruler. “The Doctrine mandated Christian European countries to attack, enslave, and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encountered and to acquire all of their assets,” wrote the World Council of Churches in a 2012 statement.

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A Sacred Beat

AT THE WORLD Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in 1996, our North American Native delegation was unable to find any “Christian” Native powwow music that we could use to dance to as part of our entrance into the auditorium. This was important at the time, as we didn’t feel the liberty to use “non-Christian” powwow music for a distinctly Christian event. A contemporary Christian song by a Caucasian worship leader using some Native words and a good beat was selected.

Except in a handful of cases (believers among the Kiowa, Seminole, Comanche, Dakota, Creek, and Crow tribes, to name some)—and those always in a local tribal context—Native believers were not allowed or encouraged to write new praise or worship music in their own languages utilizing their own tribal instruments, style, and arrangements.

What they were encouraged to do was translate Western-style music, hymns, and songs (for example, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) into their own languages, fully retaining Western cultural musical constructs.

Participation in traditional powwows, with their key features of drumming/singing and dancing, for many Native Christians has been discouraged or forbidden. Long considered a seditious threat to government control and an obstacle to the evangelization of tribal people, there was a long-concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government and missionary organizations and workers to put an end to these practices. Were it solely in the hands of some Native evangelicals to determine what Native ceremonies, rituals, or other cultural practices would be allowed, all would disappear forever, considered by the historic evangelical mission position to be “of the devil,” thus requiring total elimination.

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VIDEO: An Interview with Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee

“A lot of people don’t know that we exist,” says Queen Quet, referring to her people, the Gullah/Geehee Nation, an indigenous group that spans the coastline from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Act to help preserve the living culture of this “nation within a nation.” The Gullah/Geechee, however, continue to fight for their heritage as they battle against environmental racism and climate change. Read more in “‘We Are Not an Island’” (Sojourners, August 2014).

Watch this video as Onleilove Alston, a Sojourners board member, sits down with Queen Quet to discuss the environmental rights of the Gullah/Geechee people.

Gullah Geechee Nation Environmental Rights: Video creator, Nailah Robinson (A Black Tribe); editor, Kendria Smith.

 

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Reclaiming the Word

FOR GENERATIONS, Native North Americans and other Indigenous peoples have lived the false belief that a fulfilled relationship with their Creator through Jesus required rejecting their own culture and adopting another, European in origin. In consequence, conventional approaches to mission with Indigenous peoples in North America and around the world have produced relatively dismal outcomes.

The result has subjected Indigenous people to deep-rooted self-doubt at best, self-hatred at worst.

One of the more egregious examples of the “conventional” approach in Canada involved the church-run residential schools. Indigenous children were taken from their families, prevented from speaking their native languages, and subjected to various other forms of abuse.

Isabelle Knockwood, a survivor of church-run residential schools, observed, “I thought about how many of my former schoolmates, like Leona, Hilda, and Maimie, had died premature deaths. I wondered how many were still alive and how they were doing, how well they were coping, and if they were still carrying the burden of the past on their shoulders like I was.”

Given the countless mission efforts over the past four centuries (which in practice were targeted not so much to spiritual transformation as to social and cultural annihilation), we might conclude that Indigenous people must possess a unique spiritual intransigence to the gospel.

But that would not tell the whole story.

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AUDIO: Carol Roth’s Work with Native Mennonites

For Native Mennonites on rural reservations—many of whom live without internet or telephones—communication with the conferences of the larger Mennonite church can be difficult. Carol Roth hopes to change this. As a staff leader for Native Mennonite Ministries, Carol works as a liaison between Native Mennonites and their conferences, offering them support, resources, and ministry.

As Carol shares in an interview (Sojourners, March 2014), her unique upbringing has allowed her to straddle the Mennonite and Choctaw traditions. Listen to Sojourners editorial assistant Rebecca Kraybill talk with Carol about her work and the vision she holds for Indigenous people in the church.
 

Music courtesy of Mennonite Church Canada, youtube.com/mennonitechurchca.

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New & Noteworthy

Faith and Reform
Writer and social reform Harriet Beecher Stowe’s controversial 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought many people to the anti-slavery movement. In Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life, biographer Nancy Koester illuminates the shifting role and expression of faith in Stowe’s personal and public life and work. Wm. B. Eerdmans

Falling into Love
A few years ago a young man named Rocky Braat left Pittsburgh to wander India; he’s ended up working for years in an orphanage for HIV-positive children there. His friend, filmmaker Steve Hoover, went to explore why. The result is a Sundance-award-winning documentary, Blood Brother. www.bloodbrotherfilm.com

A Way of Peace
In The Nonviolent Life, veteran peace activist John Dear offers a primer on what he sees as the three vital dimensions of living nonviolently: nonviolence toward ourselves, toward all others (and all creation), and joining the global grassroots movement for peace. Pace e Beene Press

Spirit of Respect
Introduction to First Nations Ministry, by Cheryl Bear-Barnetson (Nadleh Whut’en), presents a course on Indigenous values, world views, history, theology, and ministry. Created for Foursquare Church ministers, the content is helpful for anyone seeking to learn more about Indigenous Christianity. Cherohala Press

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The Cost of Being 'Christian'

Richard Twiss teaching on indigenous worship. Photo by the International Worship Institute.

ALL EYES WERE fixed on Richard Twiss, the Lakota/Sioux co-founder and president of Wiconi International, who stood center stage at the 2011 Christian Community Development Association conference.

Twiss pulled no punches as he told the truth about the church's role in colonization: The global genocide of indigenous peoples and the eradication of indigenous cultures by requiring people to cut their hair, leave their families, forsake their languages, and forswear their drums. Coaxed to convert or be damned, indigenous people exchanged their own culture for guitars and mission schools in order to be "Christian."

On Feb. 9, 2013, Richard Twiss passed to the other side of life. For many he was a key voice for indigenous people finding a way to reclaim their culture while keeping hold of Christ. While Twiss was a primary voice of the movement, he was also a member of a larger circle of indigenous leaders, each of whom has played his or her part to establish and spread the good news of cultural reconciliation after "500 years of bad haircuts," as Twiss liked to put it.

Twiss had enormous impact on the indigenous "contextual ministry" movement. "Contextualization means to present the good news of the shalom kingdom of Jesus Christ in a way that people can understand and relate to in their own cultural context," explained Randy Woodley (Keetoowah Cherokee), distinguished associate professor of faith and culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.

From the time the Europeans hit Plymouth Rock, Woodley said, there have always been individuals who did not require indigenous peoples to forsake their culture in order to be Christian, but for centuries they were in the minority.

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Do You Drink Water? Welcome to Idle No More

 Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen
Round dance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Dec. 31. Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

I grew up in the Canadian north of Watson Lake, Yukon. My elementary years were spent in a public school with children of the Kaska nation. As I became an adult I was pretty proud of my exposure to and knowledge of indigenous people. But it took a return to Canada after a seven-year sojourn away to make me realize that I knew very little. I did not like the discomfort I had as I walked the city centre streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the largest urban indigenous population in Canada.

It was then I decided I had to learn. Over the last two years I have pushed myself to read and sit and listen.

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